Argentinean director Alejandro Fadel’s film The Wild Ones (Los Salvajes), presented at the 36th Göteborg International Film festival, is a work in which visual aspects predominate over textual ones. It is, furthermore, a film that begins as a thriller and ends, two hours later, as a nearly mystical, pantheistic, and metaphysical film.
It tells the story of five teenagers who make a violent escape from an institution in the Argentinean interior. They must travel 100 kilometers on foot to cross the mountains: on the other side, there is the promise of a home where they can continue their lives. They carry with them just a few groceries and a gun. They hunt animals for food, steal from houses in their path, use drugs, bathe in rivers, fight and make love.
The five main characters, four boys and a girl, are not the film’s only protagonists: so too are the hills, the mountains, and the thickening forest. The human protagonists must rely on their instincts in order to survive. The film’s violence is pure and acts as a compass guiding the characters’ actions.
To shoot his first film, Fadel went to the mountains with a very small crew, five young people without previous acting experience, and a ninety-page script. However, the power of the film lies more in its audiovisual materiality than in any preconceived ideas set down on paper. Director, technicians and actors had to go through an adventure similar to the one undertaken by the film’s characters: deal with the elements and survive. Asked how much of what we see in the film was planned and how much arose spontaneously, the director responded that the process of filming was an assault on the script: this process transcended even his strongest ideas, so that the film became more than just the acting out of a series of scenes. Fadel says that he expected the truth of the film to arise from this confrontation between the script and the reality of filming. Clearly, Fadel’s expectation was correct: the proof is in the final product.
Having spent a month filming in the mountains, Fadel put together a five-hour rough cut, which he acknowledges was ‘unwatchable’. With the help of editors Andres Estrada and Delfina Castagnino, he began a slow process of subtraction and assembly until he ended up with a final version that lasts just over one hundred and twenty minutes. Fadel explains that their rigorous selection process favoured close-ups, ellipses and off-screen space. The resulting film mutates, rather like the characters during the course of the film, becoming more primitive and atavistic. It begins as a masterful thriller and develops into a mystical, pantheistic tale in which the rational logic of time is suspended. The director himself uses a musical analogy, comparing the film to a long psychedelic track.
Ultimately, The Wild Ones sheds traditional notions of plot and character and tries to represent direct, almost primitive emotion. ‘There is no doubt that this is a mystical story’, says Fadel. ‘I always imagined this trip as a pilgrimage. However, my intention was not of a literary order. The question was not how to tell a story but how to film a sacred mystery in today’s world. The question was purely one of cinematic form’.
Although in formal terms the film is flawless and dazzling, something of its discursive proposal does not quite jell in the end.
Edited by Alison Frank
© FIPRESCI 2013